Faculty Senate’s new fund ready to assist students in short-term financial distress

Members of WCU’s Faculty Senate and others gather for a tour of the HOMEBASE College Ministry facility after the faculty group’s recent meeting at that location. The Faculty Senate’s new Student Support Fund will be used to assist WCU students, including students affiliated with HOMEBASE, when they are faced with short-term financial emergencies. Participating in the tour are (from left) Arledge Armenaki, faculty senator; Mandy Dockendorf, chair of WCU’s Staff Senate; Elizabeth Tait, faculty senator; Niall Michelsen, faculty senator; Bailey Welch, HOMEBASE intern; Patricia Bricker, faculty senator; Zsolt Szabo, faculty senator; Brian Railsback, Faculty Senate chair; and Ophir Sefiha, Faculty Senate secretary.

After receiving a boost in the form of several substantial donations, the Western Carolina University Faculty Senate’s new Student Support Fund is ready to assist students who are dealing with short-term financial emergencies.

During a meeting last fall, members of the Faculty Senate voted unanimously to create the fund and raise money for it to support financially independent WCU students who need help with emergency expenses such as buying food or medication, or assistance in paying their rent. Recipients of the aid will include some students who are affiliated with HOMEBASE College Ministry, said Brian Railsback, professor of English and chair of the faculty group.

“We know HOMEBASE is a magnet for students who are in need,” Railsback said.

A partnership involving WCU and Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, HOMEBASE operates in the former Baptist Student Union building, with Jim Dean, a licensed therapeutic foster parent, serving as director. The facility provides a safety net for students who have aged out of the foster care system, formerly resided in congregate care, or are orphans or emancipated. It provides amenities such a stocked pantry and laundry room, but it also is a place to socialize with other WCU students in the same situation of missing out on the financial and emotional support of an extended family during their college years.

To date, the Student Support Fund has taken in cash donations totaling more than $9,000. Members of the Faculty Senate hope to collaborate with the Office of Advancement and other partners on campus, such as the Student Government Association, to raise more money to bolster the fund. “This safety net fund, combined with a faculty and adviser network across campus, means we can reach out to financially distressed students in a new way,” Railsback said.

One fundraising event being planned involves a bicycle ride for pledges from Cullowhee to Raleigh later this semester. In his former position as dean of WCU’s Honors College, Railsback undertook a series of bike rides to raise money for Honors College scholarships, and the current concept is for him to join Darby Harris, an instructor in WCU’s Department of Biology with a long history as a competitive road cyclist, on the ride this spring.

Lowell Davis, WCU’s assistant vice chancellor for student success, will be dispensing money from the fund to support the students. The amount of aid provided to individual students will not exceed $200 to avoid interference with the students’ financial aid packages.

WCU faculty and staff members who encounter a student in financial distress are asked to contact Davis at lkdavis@wcu.edu. Davis will meet with the student, and in consultation with Financial Aid, funds will be distributed to help with the student’s immediate need. Students in severe, long-term need will be directed to the Office of Financial Aid, and when appropriate, students will be referred to other support programs, Railsback said.

Davis said he is excited to see Faculty Senate take on a mission of helping the students. “We at WCU are lucky to have a faculty so engaged in the institution and the community as a whole,” he said.

For more general information about the student support fund, contact Railsback at brailsback@wcu.edu or 828-227-3933.